How Exercising During Chemotherapy Can Give Your Heart And Lungs A Healthy Boost

We all know exercise is generally good for us, even if we don't always participate. For those undergoing chemotherapy, exercise may be even more important.

Chemotherapy is a powerful chemical treatment used to treat cancer (via Mayo Clinic). The chemicals kill cells, and because cancer cells are faster-growing than most in the body, the treatment can be effective. Chemotherapy takes its toll on the body, however. Patients experience many side effects during chemotherapy, such as nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, constipation, and pain. Understandably, these side effects can prevent patients from following their daily routines, making activities like exercise much more difficult and less appealing. Chemotherapy can also have lingering side effects that last for months or years after treatment ends, along with possible damage to nerves, the lungs, and the heart (per Mayo Clinic).

With all the challenges that chemotherapy presents, patients may not feel well enough to exercise. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the positive effects of exercise include reduced anxiety and depression, reduced risk of disease, improved sleep, improved muscle strength, and the ability to perform daily tasks. Johns Hopkins Medicine also adds that exercise increases overall aerobic fitness by improving how well your heart functions. What does exercise do for the heart and lungs in those going through chemotherapy?

Exercise helps with chemotherapy recovery

According to a new study published in JACC: CardioOncology, if those undergoing chemotherapy treatment can find a way to exercise, it could be beneficial to their recovery. In the study, patients with lymphoma, colon, breast, and testicular cancers undergoing chemotherapy participated in a 24-week exercise routine. One group of participants began the program during treatment, while the other began three weeks afterward. Those who began during treatment felt less tired and had lower decreases in health-related quality of life, muscle strength, and heart and breathing function than the second group. A year after completing the exercise program, both groups regained their normal cardiorespiratory health.

In this study, it appears that exercise can make life slightly better while going through chemotherapy. It may also help fend off the lasting harmful effects the treatment can have on the body, particularly on the heart and lungs. "The old era ... where you were told to just focus on your cancer treatments, eat what you want, rest, is becoming outdated," Dr. Eric Yang, director of UCLA's cardio-oncology program, told U.S. News & World Report. "This, amongst many other studies, has shown it is safe to exercise with some caution towards high-intensity regimens." Going through chemotherapy is a choice, and a means to treat cancer in an attempt to continue living a quality life. While the side effects from chemotherapy may be impossible to prevent, exercising may improve your outlook.